On the Darkest Days, I Read #SOL16

On the darkest days, the hardest days, I pick up a book and I read aloud to students. My third grade students, restless with thoughts of summer, quieted as I began to read aloud. I've been reading Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind, a book that puts you right into the shoes of nonverbal Melody, an 11 year old with cerebral palsy. It is a book you should read, if you haven't already, and I don't want to spoil anything for you. I'll just say this was the part where there was a terrible injustice done to Melody. The air was thick with emotion. My voice wavered as I read the words. They were quiet. Then they were angry and outraged for Melody, right along with me. 

These are the moments. When you get a room full of eight and nine year olds to ache with caring about a character who is very different from them.  When they see we are all the same on the inside, despite any outward differences. When they forget that Melody drools and can't talk and kicks her legs out in excitement, because they've heard her voice, her thoughts, her heart. When you see the "other" and the otherness fades away because you know we are all just people, doing the best we can. 

In the wake of yet another horrific mass shooting, this time aimed at a specific community, I can't think of any reading strategy more important than this, than this communal sharing of a character's struggle, building empathy through story. We nurture readers, not to have them check off levels along their journey, but to have them take in other perspectives, to question and grow ideas, to become a more knowledgeable person, and in my opinion, to become a better person. Reading makes you better. It makes your heart larger and fuller, more capacious, as Kate DiCamillo might say. 

And maybe, because you know Melody's story, you won't point, or stare, or laugh at a person who is differently abled. Maybe you won't say insulting words to a person who chooses differently from you, whether in politics, in religion, or in love. 

I don't have any answers about how to stop these horrific tragedies, like Sandy Hook, like Orlando- these times when innocent people are gunned down in movie theaters and night clubs and first grade classrooms. Honestly, I am terrified by it, and at the same time almost numb. Helpless, too. I sign petitions, I make phone calls to representatives, but there is this pervasive feeling that nothing will ever change. History keeps repeating itself again and again and nothing changes. 

Yet. There is quiet in a third grade classroom, as students take in and feel the pain of a character in a book. Will this change their hearts? Will these times of reading together, of connecting around story, make them kinder people? I read aloud powerful stories because it is the stone I can throw in the water, and pray that ripples of understanding will come. It is the seed I can plant, with the hope of a patient gardener, that something beautiful will grow in time. 

On the darkest days, the hardest days, I pick up a book and I read aloud to students.


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